Will PTI workers’ arrests force early elections?
ver since Imran Khan’s ouster from office, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has been trying various strategies to return to power. These days, its latest gimmick – the Jail Bharo Tehreek – is making headlines.
Khan and his associates have now vowed to offer themselves up for arrest to compel the government to hold fresh elections. The issue is far from settled even after President Arif Alvi announced a date for elections to the provincial assemblies of the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
After the success of the no-confidence motion in the National Assembly, Imran Khan developed a narrative that the US, with the help of some local leaders, had hatched a conspiracy to topple his government for saying ‘absolutely not’ to the US demands and developing trade and diplomatic ties with Russia. Later, he launched a long march toward Islamabad in May 2022 that did not yield the desired results. Next, Khan launched another round of street protests during which he was shot at in Wazirabad in July and received bullet wounds in his leg. He, however, kept addressing his supporters through video link. After a few weeks, he announced the resumption of the second phase of the long march and his virtual participation in it. He personally appeared in the last rally in Rawalpindi while using a walking stand in November 2022 and announced his decision to quit all assemblies. However, he and his party took nearly two months to decide on the dissolution of the provincial assemblies of the KP and the Punjab. In both the Punjab and the KP, a majority of the legislators were not in favour of the dissolution. The minority opinion prevailed in the party. After the government still did not announce the date for elections, Khan announced his decision to launch a Jail Bharo Tehreek from February 22.
On the first day of the movement, former ministers Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Azam Swati and Asad Umar as well as Umer Sarfraz Cheema and Dr Murad Raas, among others, reached The Mall and stated: “We are going to jail for achieving real freedom.” They asked the policemen to arrest them and other PTI activists but the police made no move in that direction. Later, the leaders and the supporters boarded prison vans, parked on The Mall. Some of them took selfies and photos while sitting on the vans and left while Qureshi and other leaders and supporters asked the driver take them to the CCPO office. When the vehicle reached there, the leaders asked the police officials to arrest them but they refused. After raising slogans outside the CCPO’s office, the PTI leaders instructed the driver to take the van to Camp Jail in Lahore where they again raised slogans and offered themselves for arrest. When this did not happen, the vehicle was taken to the Kot Lakhpat Jail where the same scene was repeated. Thus, the PTI leaders kept roaming around for several hours. At last, the Lahore deputy commissioner issued their detention orders under Section 3 of the Maintenance of Public Order. The police then took 80 leaders and activists in custody and sent them to Kot Lakhpat Jail.
On Thursday, the PTI kicked off the second round of the movement in Peshawar where hundreds of PTI activists gathered at the busy Hasht Nagri Chowk but none surrendered to the police. Later, a group led by former NA speaker Asad Qaiser, arrived at Peshawar Jail to surrender to the jail authorities.
The PTI leaders had expected the police to arrest them for violating Section 144 and release them in a few hours. However, the Prisons Department issued the orders to send them to Mianwali, Attock, Dera Ghazi Khan, Bhakkar, Rajanpur and Layyah jails. The families of the arrested leaders and Ejaz Chaudhry, the PTI’s coordinator for the movement, filed a petition for their release. Zain Qureshi, son of Shah Mehmood, also filed a petition in Lahore High Court. In his petition, he stated that his father had been kept at an undisclosed location. “He should be recovered and presented in the court,” he requested.
On Thursday, the PTI kicked off the second round of the movement in Peshawar where hundreds of PTI activists gathered at the busy Hasht Nagri Chowk but none surrendered to the police. Later, a group led by former NA speaker Asad Qaiser, reached Peshawar Jail to surrender to the jail authorities. However, the jail administration told them that they should go to the police station as they could not let them in without registration of a case. None of the other major leaders surrendered for arrest. In the end, around 100 PTI activists were detained.
Reacting to the move, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan said the strategy had backfired on the PTI. “Imran Khan should stop dreaming about returning to power. The call for arrests to fill jails got a lacklustre response from the masses. The PTI could gather only around 400 people in the provincial capital of the Punjab.”
According to some PTI insiders, the purpose of the move is to stay politically relevant and visible. They say the goal stands achieved.
Amidst the political tussle between the coalition government and the PTI, President Arif Alvi also announced a date for elections to the Punjab and KP assemblies. This started a debate about the president’s role and authority in such matters.
Later, the Supreme Court of Pakistan took a suo motu notice to determine the relevant authority for setting the date for the elections. Chief Justice Umer Atta Bandial formed a nine-member bench. Justice Jamal Mandokhel expressed reservations about the suo motu notice; pointing out that two petitions had already been moved by speakers of the dissolved assemblies.
“We will have to see if the provincial assemblies were dissolved constitutionally. Can assemblies be dissolved on somebody’s dictation? If a representative is elected for five years, how can the assemblies be dissolved on the direction of an individual,” remarked Justice Mansoor Ali Shah.
Justice Shah added: “We will see if the dissolution of the provincial assemblies is unconstitutional and whether this issue can be resolved through their restoration.”
Before dissolving the Punjab Assembly, former chief minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi had said that 90 percent of the PTI MPAs had not wanted the assembly’s dissolution. “However, I am following Khan’s direction and forwarding the advice to dissolve the provincial legislature.”
On the other hand, the Pakistan Bar Council has objected to the inclusion of Justice Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi and urged the chief justice to include Justice Qazi Faiz Issa and Justice Tariq Masood.
The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. He tweets at BukhariMubasher